Since Russia invaded Ukraine, last month, many are asking how it can remain a member state of the United Nations, whose Charter (Article 2, Section 3) requires that “all Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” Besides its current invasion of Ukraine, Russia, under Vladimir Putin attacked Chechnya in 1999, invaded the Republic of Georgia in 2008, militarily intervened in the Syrian civil war in September of 2015 and violated the U.N. arms embargo of Libya, by sending military supplies and expertise to Khalifa Haftar, Supreme Commander of the Libyan National Army. More recently, since January of 2021, Russian supported mercenaries and military instructors engaged in combat operations in the Central African Republic, again in violation of an embargo imposed by the United Nations Security Council. Russian mercenaries have similarly participated in the conflict in Sudan.
Furthermore, how can Russia sit as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, who “has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security,” while regularly using its veto to prevent the Council and General Assembly from fulfilling their responsibilities and acting in areas contrary to the interests of Russia itself?
Congress Asks if Russia Can Be Expelled from the United Nations…
These questions have led some, including many members of the U.S. Congress, to ask if Russia can be expelled from the Security Council and even the United Nations itself.
Article 6 of the U.N. Charter states that “a member of the United Nations which has persistently violated the Principles contained in the present Charter may be expelled from the organization by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.” Skeptics argue that Russia, since it has veto power, as a permanent member of the Security Council, can prevent the passage of such a resolution and thus its expulsion. But, as we recently saw on March 2nd of this year, the General Assembly may intervene and take action in a situation where there has been aggression, or a breach of peace, due to a veto by a permanent member of UNSC (Uniting For Peace Resolution of 1950).
Not only is there legal authority, but a precedent for expelling a member of the U.N. General Assembly and from the Security Council itself!
There is precedent for expelling a member of the UN…
The Republic of China was a founding member of the United Nations, after World War II, and sat as a permanent member of the Security Council. In 1949, after a long civil war, the Chinese Communist Party defeated the ROC in mainland China and forced their nationalist forces to retreat to the island of Taiwan. Yet, the Republic of China remained the representative of the Chinese people at the United Nations until 1971.
In July of that year, 17 member states, led by Albania, requested that a question of the “Restoration of the Lawful Rights of the People’s Republic of China in the United Nations” be placed on the agenda of the 26th session of the U.N. General Assembly. They argued that the ROC represented unlawful authorities on the island of Taiwan and were not the legitimate representatives of mainland China. After several amendments and counter-proposals, aimed at keeping the ROC (Taiwan) a member state, while also approving the membership of the People’s Republic of China, the General Assembly voted to expel the ROC (Taiwan) and instate the PRC (Communist China) as a permanent member of the Security Council and the lawful representative of the Chinese nation. During the period of final voting, Great Britain and the USSR argued that they were not expelling the Republic of China, but recognizing the credentials of the People’s Republic of China as the rightful representatives of the Chinese nation. This same argument can now be used in the case of Russia, as there are valid concerns about the legitimacy of its own participation in the General Assembly and on the Security Council.
Russia’s membership in the UN may be illegitimate…
On February 24, 2022, just two days after Russia invaded his country, Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Nations Serhiy Kyslytsia challenged the U.N. Security Council to “instruct the Secretariat to circulate to the members of the General Assembly the decision of the Security Council of December 1991, which recommends that the Russian Federation be a member of this organization; as well as the decision of the U.N. General Assembly of 1991, where the GA welcomes the Russian Federation as a member of this organization.”
His reasoning is that Article 4, Paragraph 2 of the U.N. Charter states that “the admission of any such State to membership of the United Nations shall be by decision of the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council.”
So, where is the documentation of a vote by either the Security Council, or the General Assembly, to approve Russia’s membership after the fall of the Soviet Union? To date, the U.N. has been unable to produce it.
“The U.N. Charter was signed by 51 founding member states, among which were the Ukrainian SSR, the Belarusian SSR and the USSR,” Kyslytsia said. “Yet, the RSFSR, i.e. Soviet Russia, didn’t sign it, although at that time Russia had its Ministry of Foreign Affairs separate from the Soviet Union’s one.”
According the the Soviet Constitution each republic was considered independent and separate from the USSR itself, so this lack of signature is important. As a part of the Soviet Union, Russia cannot assume the role of the USSR, itself, within the United Nations. Similarly, when Yugoslavia dissolved into multiple states, each one of them had to reapply for membership within the United Nations. Furthermore, as Kyslytsia pointed out, “there is nothing in the U.N. Charter about continuity as an insidious way to get to the members of the organization.”
Removing the Republic of China (Taiwan) from the United Nations Security Council, as well as the General Assembly, required the passage of Resolution 2758. The People’s Republic of China could not claim to be a continuing member, as Russia claims to be. Neither could the Czech Republic or Slovakia, after the break up of Czechoslovakia, nor the above mentioned successor states of Yugoslavia. Each of them had to reapply for membership in the United Nations.
Yes, Russia can be expelled from the United Nations…
Under Vladimir Putin, Russia has repeatedly violated the principles upon which the United Nations was founded and interfered with its mission of maintaining peace among its members. Valid concerns have been raised about the legitimacy of its membership in both the U.N. and on the Security Council. So, can Russia be expelled from the United Nations? Legal precedent would seem to say YES! At least its membership should be suspended until it has been found to be in compliance with U.N. Charter. Pursuing such an effort would put Russia on the defensive and illustrate the potential serious consequences of its flagrant violations of the values of the United Nations. Additionally, it would serve as a warning to other members of the U.N., especially some permanent members of the Security Council, who believe they can pursue an aggressive agenda against other nations and escape punishment. Only then can the United Nations truly be a force for peace and stability in the world.